As the economy worsens, the number of people in need is increasing. They turn to their local government agencies and find that these large agencies have the same problems as the cable company and the telephone company, as Citigroup and large private companies. They become so large that they become difficult to manage, stressing their systems infrastructure, their database managment, their customer service. In short, they fail to execute.
In Colorado, the Denver Post reported increasing delays in administering their food stamp program, a program that has had problems since 2004 because of a faulty software program, the Colorado Benefits Management System. A lawsuit was recently settled with the Colorado Center on Law and Policy (CCLP) and plaintiffs, but the problems continue.
For avowed capitalists who believe that government is the problem, incidents of this kind of government incompetence will add fuel to their fiery denouncements of government “solutions”. Capitalists will point to the advantages of a competitive marketplace where a dissatisfied consumer can shop elsewhere. For a dissatisfied citizen, there is no competition to their local, state or federal government.
Over the past decades, however, the ideal of the free and competitive marketplace has become less a reality as cable companies, like the telephone companies of an earlier age, have been given exclusive franchises to charge high fees while providing inferior service. In an attempt to be competitive, many banks and credit card companies have adopted similar cost cutting customer service systems. A bank customer dissatisfied with $40 fees and a phone labyrinth for customer service can take their money elsewhere only to find a similar level of service at the new bank. Credit card companies abound like ladies in a red light district, teasing new customers with low, low rates on transfer balances. The unwary customer who neglects the fine print discovers that subsequent purchases are charged at a rate exceeding 25%.
Google’s corporate motto is “Don’t be evil,” and to the folks at Google, “it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally – following the law, acting honorably and treating each other with respect.”
The recent and ongoing real estate and credit meltdown was not only a failure of honor and respect, but a failure of good sense by many parties. A lot of smart and not so smart people did some really stupid things. Our new American motto, both in the private market and the government sector, should be “Don’t be stupid!”